Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Bozeman Daily CHRONICLE

Verge and Bozeman Actors Theatre collaborate on Durang play

  Colter Langan, as Vanya, from left, Dee Dee Van Zyl, as Sonia, and Kari Doll, as Cassandra, rehearse a scene of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on Monday, Feb. 2, at the Verge Theater in Bozeman. The play, directed by Gordon Carpenter, opens on Friday, Feb. 6.

Colter Langan, as Vanya, from left, Dee Dee Van Zyl, as Sonia, and Kari Doll, as Cassandra, rehearse a scene of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on Monday, Feb. 2, at the Verge Theater in Bozeman. The play, directed by Gordon Carpenter, opens on Friday, Feb. 6.

By Rachel Hergett Get Out! editor
Posted: Friday, February 6, 2015 12:00 am

It’s morning in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Vanya (played by Colter Langan) has just sat down for his morning coffee, watching birds in a pond near the family home he shares with adopted sister Sonia (Dee Dee Van Zyl).

The sibling bickering begins as Sonia enters with a cup of coffee only to find her brother has already poured one for himself. Increasingly frustrated, Sonia finally hurls the coffee mug at a bookshelf, prompting her brother to question her reaction.

“It’s an angry ‘I hate my life and I hate you’ response,” she retorts.

Thus the audience is thrown into the world of three-time Obie winner Christopher Durang’s comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which opens Friday, Feb. 6, for a three- weekend run at the Verge Theater.

The production is the second collaboration between the Verge and Bozeman Actors Theatre. According to Verge Theater board vice president Bennett Drozic, the Verge collaborated with Bozeman Actors Theatre on “God of Carnage” in 2012, when the group was still Actors Theatre of Montana. The successful run sold out eight shows.

“All of us at Verge Theater have an enormous amount of respect for the progenitors of Bozeman Actors Theatre and the excellent productions they have created,” Drozic wrote in an email. “We are so happy to share this Durang play with Bozeman Actors Theater, and look forward to future collaborations!”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” features actors normally seen in Bozeman Actors Theatre productions, such as core company members Van Zyl and Langan. The Verge contributed the space and the support necessary to produce a play of this kind, including its established audience.

“They have an excellent structure in place,” Van Zyl said.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, puts the works of Anton Chekhov in “a comic blender,” as described by Durang. There are aging siblings (named by their now-deceased professor parents after Chekhov characters) facing the loss of their family home. There is a cherry orchard, or at least a grove of fruit trees. There is an overwhelming sense of disappointment.

Durang shows a Chekhovian way of giving information to the audience, highlighting intricate details of the family’s life from Vanya and Sonia’s initial scene, according to Director Gordon Carpenter.

“Durang does a great job echoing Chekhov in the way he goes about that exposition in a way that makes it fun for you to experience,” Carpenter said.

The script also employs a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor that echoes the Russian’s works.

“They talk about how terrible their lives are in a sort of funny way,” Carpenter said.

But Durang isn’t Chekhov. And this play is not a lesson in life’s futility. Unlike Chekhov, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” leaves the audience with a feeling of contentment. It’s a stark contrast to “The Seagull,” Carpenter said, which ends with a “gunshot, lights down, curtain close.”

“I seem not to want to send the audience home unhappy,” Durang said in an interview.

As the play’s action continues, we meet Vanya and Sonia’s benefactor, their sister Masha (Rhonda Smith), a famous movie star who is seeking to sell the floorboards from under her siblings. We also meet Masha’s 20-something boy toy, Spike (Mark Bond), a neighbor girl who idolizes the star (Libby Gillhespy), and a cleaning woman more fitted to the works of Sophocles.

“They are doing Chekhov, but she represents Greek tragedy,” said Kari Doll, who plays the cleaning woman, Cassandra. “She’s a doomsayer.”

While there are many aspects of the production that will appeal to those who are familiar with Chekhov’s works, there is no pre-requisite to attend the production.

Bond sees the Chekhovian themes in the flawed state of the world, but said that Durang presents a more modern take.

“Traditional family values are very abruptly colliding with life in the 20th century,” he said.

Of the cast, Smith is probably most familiar with the works of Chekhov, due in part to her MFA program at Wayne State in Detroit with a focus on classic theater. Still, she said Durang’s work has other bits from history and popular culture, such as a quote by William Penn, that add just as much to the piece.

“Those are the things that make it really rich for me,” Smith said.